The diagnosis and treatment of cancer has come a long way in the last 50 years. Today, many patients are living past their cancers.
"In the past, cancer, the 'C word,' was a death sentence. Today, we can treat and cure several types of cancer; however, it is evident that these cancers need to be found at an early stage," said Subhakar Mutyala, MD, of the Department of Radiation Oncology and Associate Director at Scott & White Cancer Institute. "Even though we can cure several types of cancer, it is important to maintain vigilance about screening for cancer."
Cancer is categorized by stages from 0 to IV, with higher stages meaning the cancer has spread to distant tissues and organs.
Early detection is often key to surviving any form of cancer. While many people will unfortunately still succumb to the cancers on this list, doctors can have great success in treating these cancers when found early.
Breast cancer gets a lot of press, and rightfully so. It is the most common non-skin cancer among women, as one out of every eight women will be diagnosed in her lifetime. It is also a very treatable form of cancer when detected early.
According to the American Cancer Society, patients whose breast cancer is detected while still in localized form have a five-year survival rate of 98 percent, compared with a survival rate of 72 percent by stage III and just 22 percent by stage IV.
The following readily available methods can identify breast cancer early, allowing doctors to stop it from spreading to other parts of the body:
- Mammograms are targeted x-rays of the breast that help identify tumors in women with no symptoms of breast cancer or in women who have found a lump or other sign of the disease. The National Cancer Institute recommends that women between the ages of 40 and 74 should receive an annual mammogram.
- Clinical breast examinations are performed by a trained professional, such as a doctor or nurse, to assess the health of the breast and look for lumps or other signs of breast cancer. Experts recommend that a health professional examine women between 20 and 39 years of age every three years, while women 40 and over should be examined every year.
- Self-examination of the breasts for lumps or changes should start for women when they are in their 20s. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends monthly self-exams, three to five days after a woman's period starts, as the breasts are not as tender or lumpy at this time.
Skin cancers are the most common form of all human cancers, and if found early, skin cancer is nearly 100 percent treatable, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
The three most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. While BCC and SCC are usually slow to spread to other parts of the body, they can cause disfigurement and even death if not detected and treated early.
Melanoma, while less common, is an aggressive cancer that can spread quickly to other parts of the body, making early detection vital. Knowing what to look for and when to contact a doctor can mean fast and easy treatment.
Here are a few warning signs of skin cancer to look for:
- Moles, birthmarks or any brown spots that change color or texture, increase in size or thickness, are larger than a pencil eraser, have an irregular outline, or appear after you turn 21
- Any spot or sore that continues to hurt, itch, crust, scab or bleed
- Sores that take longer than three weeks to heal
While your skin may change as a normal part of aging, a physician should look at skin growths that increase in size and appear translucent, tan, pearly, brown, black or multicolored.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, but according to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, it is 98.9 percent survivable for five or more years if caught before the cancer has a chance to spread beyond the prostate gland. The survival rate drops to about 28 percent if caught at stage IV. Prostate cancer often has no symptoms, and the most common symptoms can be caused by other non-cancerous conditions. These symptoms include:
- Urinating frequently
- Difficult or painful urination or ejaculation
- A feeling that the bladder is always full
- Blood in urine
- Waking to urinate frequently
The American Cancer Society says men should speak with their doctor at age 50 to discuss the available tests for prostate cancer and decide if testing is right for them. African American men or men with a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65 should begin talking with their doctor at age 45.
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal or bowel cancer, is the third most common cancer among men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Colon cancer is also the second most common cancerous killer in America because it is often not diagnosed soon enough.
The five-year survival rate when colon cancer is caught early is 90 percent, yet only 39 percent of cases are diagnosed before the cancer has begun to spread.
Here are some of the signs of colon cancer to look for:
- A change in stool, such as constipation or diarrhea that continues for more than two weeks
- The sensation that you need to empty your bowels when you have already done so
- Dark or plum colored blood specs in the stool
- Stomach pain or discomfort that lasts for more than two weeks
The NIH recommends that men and women over the age of 50 receive a colonoscopy every 10 years. A colonoscopy is an invasive procedure that looks for polyps in the upper and lower portions of the colon. Treatment can often be performed at the same time as testing.
Most often found in young men between the ages of 15 and 45, testicular cancer is treatable 99.2 percent of the time when caught early, but only 73.1 percent are cancer-free after five years if diagnosed after the cancer has spread.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that school-age boys be taught to perform regular self-examinations to look for lumps or changes in the testicles or scrotum. Pressure and discomfort in the groin area are common symptoms of testicular cancer, as is pain in the scrotum.
Occurring in the cells of the cervix, cervical cancer can be detected with a Pap test even when the patient has no other symptoms. Cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer that, according to the NIH, is most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease for which there is a vaccine.
HPV is often stopped by the immune system but can, in some women, survive for years while it contributes to the growth of cancer cells on the surface of the cervix. Catching cervical cancer while the lesions are precancerous leads to a near 100 percent survival rate, according to the American Cancer Society, but that rate drops to just 32 percent if diagnosed in stage III and 16 percent if diagnosed at stage IV.
All of these cancers share the distinction of being highly treatable when diagnosed early, but finding any cancer as early as possible increases the chance of treating it successfully. It is important to see your doctor with any unusual symptoms or physical changes to catch cancer in its earliest stages.